What is my Child's Scarring Worth?

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Galen Trine-McMahan

Fort Collins, CO

Practice Areas

Trucking Accident

Children are entitled to compensation for not just injuries, but scars, caused by the fault of another. This category of damages is called "Impairment and Disfigurement." This guide may help you in understanding some of the basic issues which are considered by a Pediatric Injury Attorney in seeking fair compensation for your child's injuries.

“Physical impairment” means any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems including, but not limited to: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine. Colorado Civil Rights Commission v. North Washington Fire Protection District, 772 P.2d 70, 76 (Colo. 1989). "Disfigurement" is also covered.

The value of a scar is dependent on many factors, including local culture and how people in the community attach meaning to scars. For example, scars on females tend to be valued higher than males based on subjective cultural norms, and facial scars tend to be compensated at a higher rate than other scars. Scars may carry additional narratives or negative experiences -- such as disrupted phases of developments in children or adolescents, negative self-image, or bullying, and this impacts how insurance companies evaluate scars as well. Getting full compensation for scars requires telling the story behind the scar, as well as forecasting the future with a "reasonable degree of medical certainty," something pediatric attorneys have experience in. What follows is some basic helpful information which is often used by Pediatric Injury attorneys and can inform the value of scarring. Pediatric attorneys may also use jury verdict data from the appropriate jurisdiction to be guided to a fair value.

Scarring causes ongoing stress, anxiety, and social issues. Scars caused by a dog-bite, burns, or other traumatic events often cause PTSD, which has lasting social and psychological effects. “Dermatologists agree that the psychological impact of these scars in pediatric patients is significant and worthy of more attention.”Injuries to the face, head, and neck area occur more frequently in younger children. Scarring is a common consequence related to dog bites, and the resulting emotional distress should not be underestimated, particularly for face wounds. A child attacked by a dog and bitten above the shoulders is equivalent to an unarmed adult sustaining a bear bite. The human emotional coping is overwhelmed.” Children studied report “prolonged emotional distress, including nightmares and subsequent augmented fear of dogs,” and “the number of unreported cases of emotional distress likely is much higher than reported.”

According to Dr. Robert Buke in his article for The Dermatologist, “12 is the age where I see most kids start to be concerned about their personal appearance… We see psychological issues a lot more in kids than adults, I think, because they’re more fragile, they’re at a more vulnerable time. Kids are learning their sense of self during the adolescent period. A scar can be sexually embarrassing, at a time when kids are getting their sense of attractiveness. A scar can weigh heavily.”

As stated by the author of Psychological Issues in Acquired Facial Trauma (PubMed), “Depression and anxiety associated with facial trauma is often coupled with worries regarding recovery and length of the treatment process. Facial trauma leads to disfigurement which also affects the social image of the patient. Patients may express unhappiness regarding facial appearance after facial trauma and this may often led to social withdrawal and isolation. They may feel inferior to others in social presentation and may often feel a stigma associated with facial disfigurement…Facial trauma patients also report higher rates of somatoform symptoms, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, body image issues, stigmatization, lower quality of life and lower overall satisfaction with life. They also report problems in marital, occupational and social functioning. They also report no necessary correlation between the degree of disfigurement and the type, extent and severity of psychological response.”

As stated in Quality of life and facial trauma: psychological and body image effects, “it appears that the result of facial scarring/trauma includes a significantly decreased satisfaction with life, an altered perception of body image, a higher incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder, a higher incidence of alcoholism, and increased post-trauma jail, unemployment, binge drinking, and marital problems. Thus, it appears that there is significant negative social and functional impact related to facial trauma and scarring.” Studies have shown that scarring has a documented effect on the ability to be competitive in the workforce; scarred job candidate perform worse than non-scarred candidates, due to subconscious prejudices on appearance, and the fact that scars serve as subconscious distractions to other individuals during a conversation, particularly one of first-impression (with a new person). When artificial scars are applied to job candidates, they are rated as worse potential employees by even the most skilled and fair interviewers. These results have been corroborated in all studies conducted on the topic to-date.

Scarring reduces wages and earning capacity. Studies estimate physical appearance defects to impair earnings by as much as 28%, with all other factors held equal. Facial scars have the most significant effects, compared to scars on other areas of the body. The prejudicial effect of scarring is most pronounced when on women, compared to on men. In Colorado and most states, a pediatric attorney can seek compensation for impairments to earning capacity, for each year of the child's life until retirement, and this money may be set aside into a restricted account (such as a 529 college savings account).

For more information, articles, and free e-books, go to ChildrensCounsel.com

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